Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guest Review: Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Today I have a guest review from Alexis Bonari, a blogger at College Scholarships, who will be reviewing Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. Welcome, Alexis, to Steph Su Reads!


High school senior Logan, who lives in small-town Missouri, is on the rebound from some unsatisfying relationships and has sworn off dating until college. But since rules are made to be broken, especially personal ones, Logan finds himself irresistibly attracted to new girl Sage. There are a few strange things to deal with, such as Sage’s strictly limited dating and homeschool education, but Logan becomes more determined to explore his feelings for her.

After Logan and Sage’s first kiss, Sage tells Logan that she was born a male and is in the midst of becoming a female. Logan reacts with anger, disgust, doubts about his own sexuality, and remorse, but eventually recognizes that his attraction to Sage transcends sexuality. Sage and Logan make their way through personal tragedy, lack of acceptance in the community, soul-searching inquiry into their own feelings, and unrelenting awareness of their unconventional relationship.


This book was the winner of the 2011 Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award for good reason – several of them, actually. I expected it to be a preachy, didactic book trying to educate young people about transgender issues. While it does convey an accurate picture of the “taboo” topic, it is accessible and tastefully humorous while causing readers to reexamine their own positions on transgender issues. It is told from the perspective of Logan, who is straight. The book is relatable to a wide spectrum of readers, and the descriptions of Logan’s ubiquitous emotional reactions make this book hit home in both literary and personal ways.

I was surprised by how “clean” the book was even as it explored transsexual issues in depth and detail. With primarily emotional and logical appeals, Almost Perfect strikes a workable balance between familiar feelings and unfamiliar situations for young readers. The only drawback to this book is that, at times, the overarching desire to educate readers about transsexuality becomes transparent enough to detect. Fortunately, by the time the story starts to lose its subtlety, most readers will be fully engaged and willing to continue reading this excellent book. Almost Perfect should be an integral part of any young adult’s library.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching golf scholarships as well as government scholarships. Whenever she gets some free time, she enjoys watching a funny movie or curling up with a good book.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (106)

Prized (Birthmarked, Book 2) by Caragh O'Brien

Note: there may be spoilers for the first book, Birthmarked.
In the thrilling follow up to Birthmarked, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone has fled from the Enclave and now must fight for her baby sister’s survival in the matriarchal society of Sylum.

Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, 16-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?
So Birthmarked was one of the most impressive books I read last year, and I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for the sequel. And it sounds like it will be just as good, if not better, than the first book. Escaping a dystopian society, only to be thrown into another dystopian society! Women ruling men! (But this being dystopic?) I can't wait to read more about Gaia, and wonder if a certain hot gentleman will make a reappearance...


Prized will be published in hardcover by Roaring Brook Press on November 8, 2011.

On a related note, they changed the paperback cover of Birthmarked. Check the hardcover vs. paperback covers below. What do you think? I think I like the change. The hardcover was a bit too...random, in my opinion. I like that the paperback moves away from a model's face and instead focuses on a significant artifact in the story.

Hardcover     ||     Paperback

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Don't Breathe a Word Cover Reveal + GIVEAWAY!

So all day yesterday, bloggers have been revealing bits and pieces of the cover for Holly Cupala's next book, Don't Breathe a Word. Holly's first book, Tell Me a Secret, was a beautiful and moving book, and I'm so excited to be able to show you the FULL COVER of Don't Breathe a Word!

Without further ado....


Joy Delamere is suffocating.

From asthma, which has nearly claimed her life. From her parents, who will do anything to keep that from happening. From delectably dangerous Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out.

Joy can take his words—tender words, cruel words—until the night they go too far.

Now, Joy will leave everything behind to find the one who has offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. She will become someone else. She will learn to survive. She will breathe…if only she can get to Creed before it’s too late.

Set against the gritty backdrop of Seattle’s streets and a cast of characters with secrets of their own, Holly Cupala’s powerful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the meaning of love, and how far a girl will go to discover her own strength.
Coming to you October 8, 2011 from HarperCollins.

Check out Holly's author website or follow her on Twitter (@hollycupala).

Giveaway Opportunity!

To celebrate the official reveal of DBAW's cover, Holly is going to give THREE winners a signed copy of Tell Me a Secret! The giveaway is open internationally, and you receive one entry for every comment you post at each of DBAW's cover reveal blog stops (schedule below). Please leave your email address so we can contact you. The giveaway ends TONIGHT, at 11:59pm CST. To increase your chances, you can also visit these other blogs and comment on the DBAW cover posts there:

MONDAY (partial covers):
Kristi (
Angela (
Lena (
Eve's Fan Garden (
Lauren (
Danielle (
Sarah (
Andye (

TUESDAY (full covers):
Kari (
Jessica E (
Steph Su (

Good luck!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review Opportunity for Bloggers!

Last year I reviewed a gem of a book called Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont. It's a relatable and beautifully written story of a pregnant girl's acceptance of her situation as she attends a summer wilderness camp in Canada.

Every Little Thing in the World is coming out in paperback this week. To spread the word, Nina is offering a copy of the paperback to the first five interested bloggers who contact her via her website. If this sounds like it might be your kind of book (why not read my review to get a sense for it?), go forth and contact her!

Review: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Tags: YA, paranormal, retelling, Greek mythology


Pierce Oliviera’s life started unraveling the day she died and met the man who she had once met in a cemetery when she was very young. The man, John, occupies a space between the dead and the living, and seems to want to keep Pierce as a companion for himself. However, Pierce managed to escape, although John has continued to show up in her life whenever she least wants him to, and create lots of trouble.

Now, Pierce is trying to start over on Isla Huesos, an island off Florida. Returning to her family’s roots, however, seems to make her life intersect again with John’s…


ABANDON is the first book in Meg Cabot’s latest YA trilogy, a retelling of the Hades and Persephone Greek myth. Unfortunately, I have found myself less and less satisfied with Cabot’s books, and ABANDON, while marginally better than Cabot’s Airhead series, still uses too many of her usual writing techniques—little forward action, a heavy emphasis on flashback—to endear itself to me completely.

I like Pierce: she is, in my opinion, a little mellower than many of Cabot’s protagonists. And at the beginning of ABANDON I was reminded very much of earlier Meg Cabot books that I loved, such as All-American Girl. Pierce displays a sense of poise that may or may not be the result of her constant encounters with near-death experiences, but nevertheless is very appealing. I even have a tiny little crush on John, who’s protective but not overbearingly so, and really very sweet in his interest in Pierce.

It was the way the story was presented, however, that didn’t gel with me. Practically every other chapter is a flashback. Granted, they are very important flashbacks, explaining how Pierce first encountered John and showing her subsequent (unwanted, but lifesaving) encounters with him and the troubles he has caused for her. However, why does the story have to be presented half in flashback? Pierce’s backstory was so much more interesting than her present story of being the new student at her school, making new friends (or nemeses) of questionable characterization, and slowly uncovering her family’s very melodramatic secret. Why couldn’t the story simply be presented chronologically? I think it might’ve made for a more engaging read, instead of my being frustrated that, once again, Meg Cabot was resorting to cliff-hangery comments that are supposed to pique readers’ interest and have us reading frantically to figure out whatever happened, but instead feels like trickery, a manipulation of our emotions.

Overall, though, I think ABANDON will be a great read for younger readers, particularly those who have read much of Cabot’s books or other paranormal reads. It has an interesting pair of lead characters and decently good writing. I just couldn’t fully get behind the awkward story structure.

Cover discussion: Considering how I cover lusted after this a long time ago, I think it's safe to say that I am attracted to it and just might want a make-out session with it.

Scholastic / April 26, 2011 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $17.99

Sent by publisher for review. Thanks, Scholastic!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In Which I Guest Post About YA and Feminism

In light of my end-of-college workload, I haven't been able to write discussion posts lately, which is a shame, because I keep on finding things I want to write about, but then not having time to write about them. And then I end up having nightmares about someone else beating me to writing about something (this is true! It happened last night! I woke up in a sweat!).

...In the meantime, however, you should check out the guest post I wrote titled "What YA Taught Me About Feminism and Femininity" on Kody Keplinger's blog. It should be intriguing and hopefully gets you talking.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Review & Interview: Huntress by Malinda Lo

Tags: YA, fantasy, fey, romance, LGBT


Taisin’s vision leads her and her classmate, Kaede, to accompany their kingdom’s prince, Con, on a journey to visit the Fairy Queen in her faraway city of Taninli. A strange winter has settled over the kingdom, people are starving, and unrest is brewing. They believe that the Queen may have answers to their kingdom’s perils.

But the journey to Taninli and beyond is a dangerous one. As they encounter mysterious magical creatures, Taisin and Kaede also attempt to fight their attraction to one another. Love has no place, either on this journey or in their lives: Taisin must take a vow of celibacy if she is to achieve her lifelong dream of being a Sage, and Kaede’s father wants to arrange a political marriage for her. But the connection they fight may be just the thing that might save them when they finally learn what they are facing.


Malinda Lo’s beautifully written debut novel, Ash, was one of my favorite books of 2009, and I awaited the release of HUNTRESS with trembling anticipation. HUNTRESS turned out a little differently than I had hoped, but it was still a book that had me reading with bated breath and tearing up at the end.

The strongest part of HUNTRESS is, in my opinion, the romance between Taisin and Kaede. Their romance starts out hesitatingly: both girls are scared to acknowledge their growing feelings for each other. As the story progresses, however, their romance blossoms into an innocent and utterly beautiful thing, what they aptly describe as a warm gift in the middle of all their danger and worry. Taisin and Kaede’s relationship really makes you believe in the power of love without taking it over the edge and into unbelievability.

HUNTRESS is told in a sort of old-fashioned fairy tale narrative style, which employs omniscient third-person narration. The constant shift in point of view may be a bit jarring, but it’s not wrong, especially considering the fact that books written in the nineteenth century used this literary technique all the time. However, I think it did contribute to my feeling of distance from most of the characters. I wanted more from all the characters: the constant switches in POV made it so that there didn’t seem to be a particular main character, and as a result everyone felt like a supporting character, with the potential for but not the actuality of depth.

Overall, however, HUNTRESS was a wonder-inducing fantasy read that spans time and distance. Don’t miss it particularly if you were a fan of Ash.

Cover discussion: Um, LOVE, obviously. Asian girl on a YA cover? So badass.

Little, Brown / April 5, 2011 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $17.99

Received from publisher for review.

Interview with Malinda Lo

1. What was your favorite (non-spoilery) scene in HUNTRESS?

Hmm, how will I answer this? I'm afraid that all my favorite scenes are super spoilery! They're turning points in the plot, which is probably why they are my favorite. Those scenes have to be filled with a lot of emotion and there has to be a major realization or bang at the end of them.

So, I'll list some page numbers if anybody has a copy of the book and wants to flip through it to find out. I especially enjoyed working on the scenes on pages 134-139, 250-255, 296-300, and 359-362.

2. What are some of your favorite fictional lesbian romances?

I love the romance between Nan and [name redacted due to spoiler!] in Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. I know that doesn't really say much, but Nan has a number of romances, and I'll just say that my favorite of hers is not the first one she experiences. I also really enjoyed the romance between Loup and Pilar in Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey, which is a sexy dystopian about a genetically modified teen girl who grows up to be a boxer.

Neither of these books is YA, although Tipping begins when Nan is 18, and Santa Olivia ends when Loup is 18, so they're both about young women and coming of age.

3. What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

Every stage of writing has its difficult aspects, each unique to the stage, and honestly the most difficult part varies with each book. With Huntress, the middle of the second (or was it third?) draft was the most difficult for me; it felt like slogging through mud at times.

Here are some other parts of the writing process that have been difficult for me:

* The outline, because I just hate writing outlines, but my publisher requires them.
* The first draft, because I don't know exactly who the characters are yet.
* The second draft, because I'm now working with revision notes from my editor, and I'm trying to make the book *mean* something.
* The third draft, because now my editor is doing line-editing and asking me a bunch of specific questions that I have to actually answer.
* The final draft, because OMG it's the FINAL DRAFT and after this it will be FINISHED, so what if it totally sucks?! (panic)

The part that I love the most? Copyediting. It satisfies some deep-seated need in me to make sure all the punctuation is correct, and have extremely nitpicky discussions with the copyeditor in the margins over proper word usage.

4. What is your favorite meal of the day, and what would it ideally consist of?

I love EVERY meal of the day, but if I had to pick only one meal, I would choose brunch because it basically incorporates all the meals (ha!) and allows you have a beautiful array of beverages, too.

Here is a brunch menu I would die for:

Strong Irish breakfast tea made in the proper way with fresh boiling water!
Southern-style biscuits with sausage gravy
Fresh, in-season fruit and Greek yogurt
A side of buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup (why not?)
A spicy bloody mary

Then I'd need to go take a nap for about 3 hours.

5. Do you have any particular writing superstitions or quirky writing habits?

Yes. To begin with, every morning that I'm drafting or revising fiction, I set Mac Freedom until noon. That program disables the internet on my computer. :) (I use it again in the afternoon.)

Then I usually meditate for about 15 minutes. I have a meditation cushion in my office and I time myself with my ipod touch timer (bells ring at the end of the 15 minutes). I usually do vipassana meditation, which essentially is "just sitting." If I'm too antsy to just sit, I might count my breaths from 1 to 10 and then repeat that cyclically to keep myself focused on the breath. Sometimes I will do a loving-kindness meditation or a body scan.

After meditation, I get to work. I've noticed that if I don't meditate, it can be a lot harder for me to concentrate at first. Sometimes I just don't want to meditate (who knows why), but I try to make myself do it anyway, because it really helps.

Thank you for answering my questions, Malinda! Isn't she fantastic? You should definitely check out ASH and HUNTRESS if you haven't yet. Check out the rest of Malinda's blog tour below (organized by Ames--thank you!):

Monday, 4/18 – The Naughty Book Kitties
Tuesday, 4/19 – Manga Maniac Cafe
Wednesday, 4/20 – Mundie Moms
Thursday, 4/21 – Ellz Readz
Friday, 4/22 – Steph Su Reads
Monday, 4/25 – Bibliophilic Book Blog
Tuesday, 4/26 – Reading in Color

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review & Interview: The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge

Tags: YA, steampunk, urban fantasy, madness, dystopian, faeries


On her upcoming sixteenth birthday, Aoife Grayson is going to go mad. That’s what happened to her mother and her older brother, Conrad, a rare, genetic version of the necrovirus that spreads through their aether-run, Proctor-controlled city of Lovecraft, Massachusetts. Now, her mother is in a madhouse, and her brother has escaped the city. But when Conrad sends an SOS to Aoife, she and her best friend Cal enlist the help of Dean, a street-smart heretic, to help her get to her father’s house in Arkham.

In between avoiding capture by the Proctors, Aoife discovers a shocking secret about the world she knows: nothing is the way it seems, and magic may be more rampant than she ever believed.


THE IRON THORN has its fair share of logistical worldbuilding inconsistencies, but should still be one heck of an adventure for younger, avid readers.

The steampunkish city of Lovecraft exists in alternate-world 1950s, which is always risky and ambitious, because it involves really thorough worldbuilding, and I’m not sure THE IRON THORN really thoroughly accomplishes that. It’s less steampunk than it is a creepy sort of urban fantasy, with the threat of dangerous fey creatures driving the second half of the story. I never entirely felt like the Proctors were frightening, because their appearances throughout the story were so sporadic: it should’ve been much harder for Aoife and her friends to escape Lovecraft, and I never fully got the sense that the Proctors were on her tail, watching her every move.

In addition to worldbuilding inconsistencies, the characters felt a little…off as well. What, exactly, is so endearing about Dean constantly calling Aoife “princess” and remarking on her apparent beauty? It’s creepy. It deserves a slapping. Multiple slappings. And an unexpected twist regarding Cal at the end of the story was the breaking point for me in what was an increasing number of poorly explained “twists.” It felt like an unsuccessful attempt to justify his bratty, bad-friend behavior in the previous 400 pages. It was almost like the story couldn’t decide what it wanted to be—a steampunk? an urban fantasy?—and so it tried to incorporate a bit of everything, with the result that some elements of the story felt a little short.

Nevertheless, Aoife is an admirable protagonist. She’s extremely motivated and determined, and therefore a delight to follow around. She is someone who you could really see accomplishing everything on her own: she just happens to attract the support of friends through her determination.

THE IRON THORN is ambitious, sprawling, and epic. I nitpicked a lot while I was reading because I wanted MORE, but there already is a lot going on in this novel that is impressive and engaging. Recommend it as a gift especially to younger, avid readers who enjoy sprawling adventures.

Cover discussion: It's pretty cool! I think it's a good depiction of Aoife's toughness, as well as the eeriness that seems to permeate Aoife's world.

Random House / Feb. 22, 2011 / Hardcover / 512pp. / $17.99

Sent by publisher for review.

Interview with Caitlin Kittredge

1. Tell us some things that readers will find in The Iron Thorn that aren't mentioned in the synopsis.

An amazing clockwork house, an underground city full of ghouls, an airship crash, a full-on makeout scene—I could go on, but there'd be spoilers!

2. Aoife is an unusual name. How is it pronounced, and how did you decide upon giving your protagonist this name?

It's pronounced Ee-fah, and it's a traditional Irish name. I went to kindergarten with an Aoife, actually, and the name stuck with me, so I decided to give it to my first YA heroine.

3. What would you consider the most interesting writing project you've worked on so far?

Definitely this one. It was amazing to create a whole alternate history from scratch, and use the Lovecraft Mythos twined with actual events such as the Red Scare.

4. If you could travel back to any period in time, where would you go and why?

Assuming I didn't have to stay? And could go home and take my corset off? The Victorian era. It was a time of amazing discovery, innovation, and exploration. Plus, I could visit Meiji Japan and the American West, two of my favorite places during that time period.

5. What do you usually do whenever you need a good laugh?

I look at people and cats being silly on the internet.

6. If you could dye your hair any color you want without any negative consequences, what color would you choose?

Oh, I've dyed it all the colors, sometimes with very negative consequences. I'm naturally brunette. I've been red, black, blond, blue, green, purple, pink and some weird orange tone that we don't discuss.


Thanks for stopping by my blog today, Caitlin! Check out Caitlin's author website if you're interested in learning more about The Iron Thorn or her other books. And thank you Dominique for putting together this blog tour!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (105)

The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas
A romantic and heartfelt celebration of both memories and new beginnings.

When Rose’s mom dies, she leaves behind a brown paper bag labeled Rose’s Survival Kit. Inside the bag, Rose finds an iPod, with a to-be-determined playlist; a picture of peonies, for growing; a crystal heart, for loving; a paper star, for making a wish; and a paper kite, for letting go.

As Rose ponders the meaning of each item, she finds herself returning again and again to an unexpected source of comfort. Will is her family’s gardener, the school hockey star, and the only person who really understands what she’s going through. Can loss lead to love?
I'm in the middle of rereading 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (one of my favorite books when I was younger) in preparation to review The Last Little Blue Envelope. The Survival Kit kind of reminds me a bit of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, at least from the synopsis: using objects to enlarge one's life and understand something that's hard to comprehend, like death. Plus, I LOVE that cover. Wow. And finally, Donna's last book, This Gorgeous Game, was astounding, so I am all the more looking forward to what she has for us next!

The Survival Kit will be released in hardcover from Farrar, Straus and Giroux on October 11, 2011.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review, Interview, + GIVEAWAY: Bumped by Megan McCafferty!

Megan McCafferty is one of my favorite authors. I had the opportunity to read her upcoming dystopian YA, Bumped, back in November, and am finally able to share my review with you, along with a wonderful interview with Megan herself! Exclamation points may be used overexcessively to illustrate my excitement at this!!!

Okay. Let's get straight to it.

Tags: YA, dystopian, teen pregnancy, satire


Melody and Harmony are identical blond-haired, blue-eyed twins who never knew the other existed until recently. Melody was brought up to be a competitive candidate on the market for professionally impregnated teens. In their world where only teenagers can get pregnant, the Jaydens pay big money for her to be “bumped” by a worthy male specimen to produce their ideal baby.

Meanwhile, Harmony grew up in a highly religious community to be the perfect wife. When she leaves her community to search down Melody and save her sister from her sinful lifestyle, it leads to a huge case of mistaken identity that has both sisters questioning everything they had once believed in about their purpose in life.


Megan McCafferty is the author of the Jessica Darling books, hands-down my all-time favorite contemporary series. The dystopian novel BUMPED is a huge departure from her legacy, but you tone down your instinctual desire to compare it to the Jessica Darling books, it is a fantastically complex story that will provide fodder for thought for multiple rereads.

BUMPED is an example of a dystopian society that is so fully realized and self-sustaining that it becomes very difficult for us outsiders to access. I spent a significant portion of the first half of BUMPED trying to figure out the “rules” of Harmony and Melody’s world, chock-full of futuristic terms, attitudes, and daily routines that seem extremely alien to us.

This may make BUMPED feel like a tryingly slow-moving novel, but once you get into their society’s groove, you quickly realize just how much Megan McCafferty has accomplished. If our currently label-preoccupied, materialistic, and consumeristic society were indeed to suffer from a mysterious virus that makes all adults infertile, you can bet that the resulting society would be almost exactly the one McCafferty has created here. All of the new vocabulary that Harmony and Melody use effortlessly can be traced back to our current world, so that once you’re successfully immersed in the story, you really get it.

At first both sisters came off as a bit flat and indistinguishable for me, but as the story went on they blossomed into uniquely complex individuals that I found myself really rooting for. Melody seems like she’s got everything figured out and going for her, albeit in a rather boring way. The deterioration of her perfect life forces her to finally confront herself with what she really wants, rather than what she was brought up to want. Harmony starts off as an irritatingly preachy girl, but as she becomes further entangled in Melody’s world, and deals with emotional turmoil of her own, I found myself liking her more and more for her determination to do right and stay true to herself in a manipulative world that she does not quite understand.

Supporting characters like Melody’s pregnancy club friends, Melody’s charming best friend Zen, and Jondoe, the star stud whose sperm is in high demand, all have a delightful roundedness to them—roundedness that does not mean they are perfectly bland characters, but instead have the ability to fight for what they want, even if we may not necessarily agree with what they want.

BUMPED is a layered book that will be good for multiple rereads, as each successive reread reveals a new layer of characterization, wordplay, and world-building that you may have noticed in passing in the first read-through but become really impressed by only in subsequent rereads. This, I think, is Megan McCafferty’s ultimate gift as an author: she has a fierce talent for and dedication to writing books that can be enjoyed at multiple levels, good for a permanent fixture on your reread shelf. Avid lovers of her Jessica Darling books, such as myself, will, I think, appreciate that the most about her first foray outside of Jessica’s well-known world, and as a result I’m really looking forward to the sequel and whatever Megan has to share with us next.

Cover discussion: I like my fair share of simple covers, but I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It may be a bit TOO simplistic and "fuzzy" in its intention...?

Balzer + Bray / April 26, 2011 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $16.99

Sent by the author for review. Thank you, Megan!

Interview with Megan McCafferty

1. Tell us something about your inspiration for writing Bumped. (If you get this question too often, tell us something you don't always mention about the inspiration.)

I have answered this question a lot, but I think that says so much about the subject matter. When people hear “only teenagers can have babies and adults pay them to make deliveries” they’re like, “What the WHAT?!” But is it really all that far-fetched? It seems like nearly every day I read an article (with headlines like “Pregnancy Epidemic: 90 teens, 11 Percent of Student Body, Pregnant” or “Teen Auctions Off Her Virginity for 50K,” or “Meet the Twiblings: The Futuristic Insta-Family”) supporting my idea that under certain terrible conditions, the shocking teen pregnancy policies of Bumped could and would be put in practice. Cultural norms are fluid, not fixed.

2. Many people know you as the author of the Jessica Darling series. Did anything about your writing process change between writing the Jessica Darling books and Bumped?

Everything changed. I grew up in Jessica Darling’s world. I knew it inside and out. I’d never invented a whole world before, so it took me a while to find my footing in the futuristic setting and understand all the characters that inhabit it.

3. Bumped is such a thoroughly realized dystopian world, with its own vocabulary, values, systems, etc. How did you keep track of all the details about this world you created?

Thank you! My husband reads a lot of Sci-Fi. He advised me early on that I shouldn’t even try to accurately predict the future, I should just have a good time with it. So that’s what I did. I had fun with the wordplay and worldplay. Once I was immersed in the story, the new world of Bumped became as familiar to me as the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ.

4. Which character or concept in Bumped surprised you the most his/her/its development?

When I started writing the book, I had no idea that Jondoe had as many secrets as Harmony. He’s as much of a product of his parents’ oppressive expectations as the twins are.

5. Jondoe was a pleasant surprise for me, too. :) Now, what is your favorite season, and why?

Summer. I write drafts in fall and winter, revise in spring. Summer means I can relax and recharge by doing research for whatever book comes next.

6. What was the most interesting thing you did to research Bumped?

There’s a character, Ram, who is just the tiniest bit inspired by Bristol Palin’s babydaddy, Levi Johnston. For a few days I devoted myself to watching his interviews on YouTube so I could borrow his body language and speech patterns. I now know more about Levi Johnston than anyone could possibly need to know.

7. I'll bet that's true! Say you have the power to bring one deceased author back to life. Who would you pick, and why?

I’d bring back J.D. Salinger because it would be amusing to watch him react to his own resurrection. “Goddamn phonies. I’m dead. Leave me alone.”

8. Name one extreme sport you would love to try, and one you will never, ever do. (Yes, you can make an extreme sport up: after all, extreme ironing is an acknowledged activity.)

I had emergency back surgery when I was 25, so you’ll never see me bungee jumping, sky-diving, or otherwise recklessly hurling my body around. Extreme Karaoke is more my style.

9. I like the sound of that! Finally, what dystopian novels would you recommend to readers?

There aren’t too many satirical dystopian YA novels, but Feed by M.T. Anderson is the one I thought about most when I was writing Bumped. It’s brilliant, hilarious and so close becoming a terrifying reality.

Giveaway Opportunity!

Thank you, Megan, for answering my questions! I am going to her launch party for Bumped next Tuesday, April 26 in Princeton, NJ, so as a gift to you readers, I am going to give away a signed copy of Bumped for one winner! And, heck, let's make it international, because I can't spread the love enough for this amazing author's books. To enter, please fill out this form here, making sure to answer the question relevantly. This giveaway ends Friday, May 13, 2011. Good luck!

Monday, April 18, 2011


Remember Leila Sales, author of the hilarious Mostly Good Girls (Simon Pulse, Oct. 2010)? Her next book, Past Perfect, is coming out October 4, 2011, and just got its cover, which Leila has allowed me to share with you guys!

Isn't it lovely? I like the chalked rain, and the girl's emerald green raincoat (emerald green!). And here's the book's synopsis:
All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra's working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated...even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new.

Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off limits, all Chelsea knows is that she's got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it....
I really like the sound of this. Check out Past Perfect's Goodreads page if you're so inclined.

Thanks, Leila, for sharing your cover with us!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

In My Mailbox (62)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Check out Kristi's post to see what others got in books this week!

For review:
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Rotters by Daniel Kraus
Faerie Winter by Janni Lee Simner
Flip by Martyn Bedford
Pretty Bad Things by C. J. Skuse - I've heard wonderful things about this UK import.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray - !!!!!
The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson
Unfriended: A Top 8 Novel by Katie Finn

Thank you, Random House and Scholastic!

From Around the World Tours:
Possession by Elana Johnson

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett - This is a leisurely paced Regency-esque fantasy, so it's right up my alley. Not bad so far.
Fall For Anything by Courtney Summers - my review here!
The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley
Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy - Bought after reading Angie's enthusiastic review.

So I went to another Borders closing sale... haha.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost - This is by my creative writing professor.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Stay by Deb Caletti

Tags: YA, contemporary, unhealthy relationships


When Clara and Christian lock eyes at a busy basketball game, they feel an instantaneously intense connection to one another. Their subsequent romance is equally intense, but soon Carla realizes that things are less than perfect, as Christian displays more and more his suffocating obsession and his desperation to keep her with him.

Two summers later, Clara and her father have escaped Christian’s constant presence by moving to a small ocean town. As Carla gets to know the townspeople, some of whom have a connection with her father’s past and some with his (and her) future, she can’t shake the terror that Christian may be just a few steps away from knowing where she is, and tracking her down again.


Wow. Wow wow wow. I think I’d use the following words to describe STAY: disturbing. Beautiful. Painful. Delicately strong. STAY eloquently captures the tremulous aftermath of an emotionally harmful relationship, told in a beautiful and not overbearing prose.

The sad and scary fact is that people go through Clara’s situation every day. I know several friends who are in such relationships. And the terrifying thing about it is that there is only so much you can do to help those people. I wish I could give them all a copy of STAY. Deb Caletti’s latest offering spins a heartwrenching portrayal of Clara and Christian’s relationship, and Clara’s subsequent healing process. We feel the intensity of Clara’s attraction and caring for Christian, despite the fact that we know from the start that he is Bad News Bears. The horrible spiral that the relationship goes down is spun out subtly and convincingly.

The characters in STAY are lovely. Clara is a fairly relatable protagonist, not knowing exactly what she wants from her future, but smart enough to know what she does NOT want from her past. The thing is, any one of us could easily be Clara: there’s nothing about her that makes her stand out, that labels her immediately as a target for such a type of relationship. Clara handles the things within her control as best as she can, and I have to respect her for that.

I also love Clara’s relationship with her father. Clara’s father, a famous writer, is one of the most well written parent figures I have read recently in YA lit. He has a personality! He has his own interests and dreams and aspirations! He has his own quirks! Awesomeee.

I was less impressed with Clara’s new romance. Come on: the girl just went through the most difficult thing she’s had to go through in her life; doesn’t it make sense for her to take a break from romance? The romance just felt like it was in the story only because it is expected of YA stories to contain a romance. So, yeah. Not impressed. Clara also discovers shocking revelations about her family history, which was a side plot that wasn’t set up as well as the main one. It’s not bad, per se: it just felt like a lot of drama that didn’t entirely live up to its shock value.

Overall, however, STAY is one hell of a read. It’s beautiful, moving, and sometimes hurts to the bone to read. But at the end of it all, it is powerful and important—and best of all, it’s written well. Pick it up or buy it as a present for someone, please.

Similar Authors
Donna Freitas (This Gorgeous Game)
Sarah Dessen (Dreamland)
Elizabeth Scott

Cover discussion: This is a pretty generic cover. Yes, Clara goes to the water, but she goes to the ocean, not a, uh, lake, or whatever that's supposed to be.

Simon Pulse / April 5, 2011 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $16.99

Review copy sent by publisher. Thank you, Dawn and S&S!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cover Lust (26)

When one has a thesis due at the end of the month... obviously procrastinate by finding pretty covers.

Illuminated by Erica Orloff
(Speak / Dec. 8, 2011)

It's a little too goldenly cliched for me to like for a very long time... but I dunno, it mesmerizes me right now. It's just bright and shiny and whatnot.

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff
(Razorbill / Nov. 15, 2011)

Talk about a cover of creepy AWESOME. I like how the red skies hint at the main character Daphne's demonic background, and the way the model lies across all that steel, another characteristic of the world Daphne lives in. Wowza.

Juliet, Immortal by Stacey Jay
(Delacorte / Sept. 13, 2011)

I debated for the longest time whether or not I liked this cover. I think the verdict is I do. The muted colors add a solemn weight to the cover--even as she's sitting at the edge of the sea in a pretty dress.

Legacy by Cara Kluver
(HarlequinTeen / June 21, 2011)

I like this mostly for the font and curlicues, lol, and the sharpness of the details of the model's outfit. This will definitely appeal to the YA-reading crowd.

Fury by Elizabeth Miles
(Simon Pulse / Sept. 6, 2011)

Again: font, curlicues. The model's dress and (attempt at an) unnerving stare. The fiery red hair that trails off into wisps of smoke... or at least that's how it looks to me. Very fierce.


So, how do you feel about these covers? Got any you've seen lately that has gotten you lusting over it?

Jersey Tomatoes are the Best Giveaway Winners!

The two winners of a copy of Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian are:

#20 Angela L!
#39 Lasha!

Congrats! I have emailed you. Everyone else, don't forget to enter the other giveaways that are open on my blog! They are listed in the sidebar to the left.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: Dark Mirror by M. J. Putney

Tags: YA, historical fantasy, Regency England, World War II, time travel, magic


Lady Victoria “Tory” Mansfield lives in a Regency England where magic is commonplace but considered a shameful and degrading thing for aristocrats to possess. All nobles who are discovered to have come into magic are immediately sent to Lackland Abbey to get rid of their magic. But Lackland doesn’t simply rid its students of their magic: it also offers a secret safe haven for those who wish to keep their magic and learn more. The decisions that Tory makes will whirl her across time and expand her conception of magic far beyond what she dreamed was possible.


DARK MIRROR is a doozy of a novel. It seems to cover a little dash of every genre—fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, romance—and while it doesn’t fully develop the possibilities that these multiple genres allow, and used quite a few YA tropes to push its nonstop pace along, it was still overall a rollicking good read.

DARK MIRROR focuses on plot over characterization. The book’s synopsis says practically nothing about the plot, which made it an interesting reading experience for me because that practically never happens for me anymore. The pacing kept me engaged even through the less believable moments—which occurred at greater and greater frequency as the story progressed.

Why is that so? I think it might be because this book tried to take on so much. First it introduces us to an alternate-world Regency England where magic is common but considered “dirty blood” among the gentry. The explanations for how the magic worked were practically nonexistent, but it didn’t bother me all that much once I readjusted my mental “targeted reader’s age” to something much younger.

But then, about two-thirds of the way through the book, we basically get introduced to a whole different set of characters, who know nothing about magic, and so in the span of, like, 20 pages Tory manages to explain and teach them magic. Call me picky, but that felt like a poorly rushed narrative decision. And there is not much I want to say about the ending, because by that point I was trying to hold in my laughter at how dramatic and contrived the plot had gotten. Not the kind of reaction a book wants to inspire in its reader.

Tory and her friends are basically solid characters. Tory is a resilient protagonist, not annoying. Other than her, however, the supporting characters were relatively stock characters: you had your mean but troubled roommate; the jolly, though poor, male friend; the plucky little sister; and so on. The thoroughly undeveloped romance that gets thrown into the story kind of randomly felt entirely like someone had said, “This is YA; it needs a romance” and so plunked the moody handsome guy in. And, as most of you know by now, that is not okay by my book.

So DARK MIRROR is not high-quality literature. It employs a few too many clichéd YA elements for me to truly enjoy it. But I think that younger readers who’ve enjoyed Libba Bray’s or Tiffany Trent’s gothic YA historical fantasy series might delight in this exciting and fast-paced story.

Similar Authors
Libba Bray
Tiffany Trent
Lee Nichols

Cover discussion: I was having none of this cover when I first saw it, and while I have less of a problem with it now that I've read the book, I still don't really like it. The girl's reflection in the mirror made me think this was about some gender-bending historical fantasy tale. That would have been crazy, eh?

St. Martin's Griffin / March 1, 2011 / Paperback / 320pp. / $9.99

Copy won from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Enclave Book Trailer!

Enclave, acclaimed adult urban fantasy author Ann Aguirre's first foray into YA dystopian fiction, came out yesterday from Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. Check out this fascinating summary if you haven't yet:
New York City has been decimated by war and plague, and most of civilization has migrated to underground enclaves, where life expectancy is no more than the early 20's. When Deuce turns 15, she takes on her role as a Huntress, and is paired with Fade, a teenage Hunter who lived Topside as a young boy. When she and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the tunnel monsters—or Freaks—who seem to be growing more organized, the elders refuse to listen to warnings. And when Deuce and Fade are exiled from the enclave, the girl born in darkness must survive in daylight, in the ruins of a city whose population has dwindled to a few dangerous gangs. As the two are guided by Fade’s long-ago memories, they face dangers, and feelings, unlike any they’ve ever known.
Doesn't that sound so so so so awesome? I've lost count of the number of months I've been pining after this book. I can't wait to dig into it.

Find out more about Enclave here, including the first two chapters, the book cover and an interview with the author!

Zeitghost Media has also brought to my attention the book trailer for Enclave, which is below:

Wowza! I look forward to reading it! What about you?

Waiting on Wednesday (104): Penguin's Fall 2011 Catalog

So, when Penguin released their Fall 2011 catalog a couple weeks ago... talk about an explosion on my wishlist! I'm going to highlight several that I'm really excited for:

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder
(Razorbill / Dec. 8, 2011)
Cameron Cooper, a cynical teenage girl dying of cancer, is told by her doctors she needs a miracle to survive. In a last-ditch effort to save her daughter’s life, her mother takes her to a small town in Maine rumored to be magical. If there’s a shot for Cameron, her mom believes, it’s here. But for Cameron, believing in miracles would mean believing she has another chance at life ... and that’s dangerous for someone who knows better than to get her hopes up.

As the girls settle into Promise, amazing things start happening: it snows in August; there’s a rainbow when it doesn’t rain; a flock of flamingos takes residence in the pond behind the high school, even though they’re not supposed to live this far north. Cameron, a scientist at heart, searches for explanations for these bizarre occurrences, refusing to believe they’re miracles.

But soon, the magic of the town—and her feelings for Asher, a local boy who seems to know Cam better than she knows herself—become impossible to deny. Over the course of the coming months, Cameron lets go of her cynicism and opens herself up to life and the world. In the end, Promise is a magical place, but for Cameron becoming a believer might just be the biggest miracle of all.
This has all the right elements for a sap-fest: cancer, a small town, a romance... plus this little magical twist that I'm very intrigued by.

Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe
(Viking Juvenile / Oct. 13, 2011)
When high school junior Sara wins a coveted scholarship to study ballet, she must sacrifice everything for her new life as a professional dancer-in-training. Living in a strange city with a host family, she’s deeply lonely—until she falls into the arms of Remington, a choreographer in his early twenties. At first, she loves being Rem’s muse, but as she discovers a surprising passion for writing, she begins to question whether she’s chosen the right path. Is Rem using her, or is it the other way around? And is dancing still her dream, or does she need something more? This debut novel in verse is as intense and romantic as it is eloquent.
Okay, so the intrigue in this is probably coming off of watching Black Swan in January. And here's a YA where the MC questions whether or not romance fulfills her. Add to that that lovely cover... me wants!

Fox and Phoenix by Beth Bernobich
(Viking Juvenile / Oct. 13, 2011)
The king of Lóng City is dying. For Kai Zu, the news means more than it does for most former street rats in the small mountain stronghold, because he and the king’s daughter are close friends. Then the majestic ruler of the ghost dragons orders Kai to travel across the country to the Phoenix Empire, where the princess is learning statecraft. In a court filled with intrigue, Kai and his best (female) friend Yún must work together to help the princess escape and return to Lóng City. A refreshing mixture of magic, wit, and action, Fox and Phoenix is an auspicious debut!
An Asian-inspired fantasy! We don't have enough of those. I also really like that cover: it's a wonderful blend of the colorful, the exotic, and the mystical.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
(Dutton Juvenile / Sept. 28, 2011)
For budding costume designer Lola Nolan, the more outrageous, the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins move back into the house next door.

When the family returns and Cricket—a gifted inventor and engineer—steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.
Would a WoW featuring Penguin's Fall 2011 books be complete without mentioning this gem? Steph's first novel, Anna and the French Kiss, was one of my favorite debut reads of 2010. There can be no doubt that her sophomore novel will be just as charming and romantic.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review + GIVEAWAY: Pink by Lili Wilkinson

Tags: YA, contemporary, Aussie lit, musical theatre, LGBT, friendship


Smart and pink-loving Ava Simpson wants a chance to be normal. So she leaves behind her girlfriend, the cool and sophisticated Chloe, for a new school, and eagerly dives into a new life filled with girly clothing, challenging academics, hanging out with the “Pastels,” and crushing on a hot boy.

But what is normal, anyway? And, more importantly, who is Ava? When Ava joins the stage crew and befriends a quirky group of geeks, she feels torn between Chloe, the Pastels, and these “Screws.” But juggling all these different identities is not easy, and Ava has to figure out who she is before she loses everyone.


THAT’S IT. Upon my college graduation this May, I am packing up my worldly possessions and moving to Australia, land of infinite YA talent. I have been fortunate enough to read a number of wonderful Aussie YA authors—Cath Crowley, Kathy Charles, Melina Marchetta, Jaclyn Moriarty, Kristy Eagar—but Lili Wilkinson’s PINK raised in me the rare and wonderful feeling of wanting to walk up to everyone I see and go, “This book. Oh my word. It’s…words fail me in describing its awesome. JUST READ IT.” I’m going to equate this feeling to the one I got when I finished Robin Brande’s Fat Cat, still one of my favorite books ever, and then gushed endlessly about it for years and years and tell people repeatedly that they need to read it (yes, Jamie, I’m talking to you).

So. *breath* Let’s begin to explain why PINK is the Holy Grail of YA Contemporary Awesome, at least probably for those who share my taste in contemporary fiction. First of all, it is important to note that this is the most elegantly casual portrayal of LGBT teens I have encountered in YA. “Elegantly casual” sounds like an oxymoron, but what I mean by that is that it is a lovely realistic presentation of the ambiguities of teen sexuality. Lili Wilkinson doesn’t try to fit Ava and the other characters into character types in LGBT fiction that have been done before. Instead, they are simply allowed to…exist as they are, and it’s not a big freaking deal. David Levithan didn’t quite do it for me with his utopian romance Boy Meets Boy, but I am enamored by PINK’s skillful and intelligent handling of sexual orientation and identity.

Speaking of intelligence, PINK has the type of smartness that will appeal to everyone, regardless of your IQ level. Ava and the Screw kids are, without a doubt, nerds—specifically of the sci-fi geek kind. This means that they constantly engage in the most entertaining of conversations regarding the strangest and most obscure topics everywhere. There’s nothing like using one’s excessive brainpower for nerdy humor, and as someone who goes to a nerdy-cool college, I adored the banter. The Screw kids are weird, but they’re cool-weird, and best of all, each of the five has his or her own distinct personality.

PINK has all of the essentials that I live in a contemporary novel: a strong-voiced protagonist who is still in the process of growing, wit, full characterization. Not to mention some delectable extras: the sci-fi geek details, musical theatre (!), a cute boy, and memorable side characters. Without a doubt, PINK is going on my favorites shelf, and I eagerly look forward to the next time I reread it, so that I can experience the joy of this wonderfully well-written book all over again.

Similar Authors
Julie Anne Peters
Maureen Johnson
John Green
E. Lockhart
Nina Beck
Robin Brande

Cover discussion: Sighhhhhh. So many of my favorite books have really unappealing covers. I wouldn't be surprised if you don't see this in many bookstores, because who really wants to display a set of heavily lipsticked lips on a shelf? I actually own the Aussie/UK copy, and I'm not a fan of its cover either. I'm not sure what type of reader either cover is trying to attract. The ditzy girlie-girl? I would have missed this if it hadn't been for all the good things I've heard about it, that's for sure.

HarperCollins / Feb. 8, 2011 / Hardcover / 310pp. / $16.99

Personal copy. Awesomeeeee.

Giveaway Info!

I have an extra Aussie/UK copy of Pink that I'd like to share with someone because this book is too good to keep to myself. To enter, fill out the form below, making sure to answer the question relevantly. This giveaway is open to US & Canada residents (don't worry: even if you can't win it here, you can buy it from Book Depository!), and ends Monday, April 25, 2011. Have fun!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In My Mailbox (61)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Check out Kristi's post to see what others got in books this week!

For review:
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
America Pacifica by Anna North
The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
Huntress by Malinda Lo
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

Thank you to Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Scholastic!

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Vol. 1 by Diana Wynne Jones
Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey
In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip

This book warehouse near my school was having a closing sale; I got these five for eleven dollars. Great deal, eh?

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud
Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James
Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin
Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
The Boy Book by E. Lockhart

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Tags: YA, contemporary, Wyoming, friendship


14-year-old ex-beauty pageant participant Grace Carpenter just wants to get out of Washokey, Wyoming, where everything, especially her pageant-obsessed mother, is stifling and nothing is beautiful…except for Mandarin Ramey, whose sensuality and shamelessness ensures that she always stands out in Washokey. Grace has always watched Mandarin from afar, wishing that she knew what it was like to be Mandarin. So no one is more surprised than she when Mandarin extends her hand in friendship.

Being friends with Mandarin is exhilarating, and a little terrifying. Mandarin convinces Grace that the two of them need to get out of Washokey in order to live. Does Grace have what it takes to give up all that she knows in order not to lose Mandarin?


Everyone raved about this book months before it came out. Melina Marchetta blurbed it. It has a stunning cover. Suffice it to say that my expectations going into Kirsten Hubbard’s debut novel were really high. And while LIKE MANDARIN didn’t quite live up to them, suffice it to say that it is still a lovely and evocative book that deserves to be read and beloved.

It is a very risky thing to try and create a MPDG—a “manic pixie dream girl,” the kind of character who seems to embody passion, mystery, adventure, obsession, the forever wandering soul. There’s a negative connotation associated with MPDGs in films, but in literature I think of Alaska Young and Margo Roth-Spiegelman. Does Mandarin take a spot alongside these legendary literary girls? Not quite, but not without trying. It’s easy to see Mandarin, sexy and fearless and disdainful, strolling down the Wyoming streets with her jeans slung below her hips and her hair tumbling down her back. It’s clear that Mandarin is Grace’s MPDG—but she wasn’t entirely mine. Grace and our assumptions of MPDGs hint at Mandarin’s troubled life—abuse, misdirected sexuality, and so on—but they don’t feel completely realized in Mandarin’s character. Throughout the book, we remain firmly in Grace’s point of view, which, since this is first-person narration, makes sense, but the narration didn’t allow for the possibility of Mandarin developing as a fully complex character for me, the reader. What I mean is: Grace says Mandarin is fascinating and the representation of freedom and beauty, but I didn’t entirely see it in the story.

Grace is not a bad character—I can’t help but like a girl who, at six years old, flashed the entire audience at her last beauty pageant—but her focus on Mandarin does color our view of her a bit. Because Mandarin never quite lived up to her reputation in my opinion, I found that I also became a little skeptical of Grace’s, um, judgment. I guess that this kind of thinking and behavior is understand in a restless 14-year-old; I always got this impression that Grace was older than that, which may also have contributed to why I didn’t entirely empathize with Grace. She was pretty much fixated on Mandarin to the point where it became a bit uncomfortable and perhaps even boring for me.

My favorite character was, unexpectedly, Grace’s little sister, Taffeta. Now that is a girl who has the potential to grow up to be the Mandarin Ramey of her generation, if she wanted to be so. If you’ve read the book, maybe you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t read the book and intend to, look out for her. She’s adorable.

I was mesmerized by Kirsten Hubbard’s writing, although at times the descriptive language did feel a bit excessive. I loved the way Grace thought about Wyoming wildwinds: it made me want to go to Wyoming and experience that for myself, the restlessness that a landscape and climate can create. At other times, however, I felt like the writing tried a bit too hard to be “pretty,” to the point where the descriptive language didn’t actually make sense, or made me stop and scratch my head and try to figure out how in the world that simile was supposed to work.

Overall, LIKE MANDARIN didn’t entirely give me what I wanted, but I still finished the book with a little bit of a “wow” feeling in my chest. I think the cover, writing style, and premise will really draw contemporary realism lovers, and I don’t think that the appeal is misguided at all. This is a good debut novel, and I am interested in seeing what Kirsten Hubbard writes next.

Similar Authors
Julie Anne Peters
Catherine Ryan Hyde
Sarah Dessen

Cover discussion: Still one of my favorite covers of 2011 so far. Such a stunning use of white space, complemented by that brilliant shade of (mandarin) orange.

Delacorte Books / March 8, 2011 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $17.99

Copy sent for review by publisher. Thanks, Random House!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...